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Reopening NCAA Investigations Rare but Not Unprecedented

At ACC Football Media Days, the NCAA’s reopened investigation into North Carolina’s academic scandal was discussed. Part of ACC commissioner John Swofford’s comments on the investigation touched on whether there was precedent for the NCAA reopening an investigation:


The best recent example would be Tennessee. On August 24, 2011, the Division I Committee on Infractions published its report in the case which focused on Bruce Pearl’s recruiting violations and subsequent unethical conduct. Included in that case were three secondary violations involving the football program. What was not discussed was the recruitment of Lache Seastrunk, who took an unofficial visit arranged by Willie Lyles, who was reimbursed for the visit by then-Tennessee assistant coach Willie Mack Garza.

The reason is that a year prior, in August 2010, the NCAA enforcement staff interviewed Garza who made no mention of Seastrunk, Lyles, or the visit. But six days after the basketball-heavy major infractions report was released, the NCAA interviewed Lyles. That interview lead to a second major infractions report released in November 2012 which did find major violations in the football program. That resulted in Tennessee’s probation being extended in addition to some other minor penalties.

Whether the NCAA “reopened” its investigation into Tennessee is a matter of semantics. On the one hand, the investigation which spawned the 2012 major infractions case never really closed, since it focused on Willie Lyles rather than one specific school. On the other hand, Tennessee certainly thought its portion of the case was closed:

“We appreciate the opportunity to close this chapter with the Committee’s announcement today, moving forward with no major violations in our football program and no additional penalties from the NCAA,” said interim vice chancellor for athletics/athletic director Joan Cronan. “The institution cooperated fully with the NCAA and we have a strong culture of compliance, and a bright future is on the horizon for Tennessee athletics.”

And the NCAA’s most famous major infractions case, Southern Methodist’s 1987 case which resulted in the “death penalty” was a reopening of SMU’s earlier 1985 major infractions case. Following the 1985 case, Southern Methodist continued payments to players whose payments had not been discovered by the NCAA and whom had been promised payments as part of their recruitment. Over a three week period in 1986, the NCAA discovered that the payments were continuing, resulting in the repeat violator penalties being imposed the following year.

Maybe the specific circumstances of the North Carolina case have not been seen before: the NCAA investigating an university for violations in a certain area, finding violations in that area, closing the case, then reopening an investigation into the same area over a similar time period. But the NCAA has gone back to schools and revisited past infractions. The NCAA says so in virtually any final statement they make on any infractions case, no matter what level: the case is closed, but the NCAA will be back if additional information comes to light.

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